The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recently blocked Facebook’s Free Basics service in the country, citing concerns that the service might defy the country’s net neutrality laws. In response, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has penned an opinion piece in the Times of India, attacking critics of the Free Basics program, which will extend Internet access to some of India’s poorest citizens, but will allow content to be controlled by Facebook.
Zuckerberg likens Free Basics to libraries or public hospitals, which offer a small portion of books or treatments for free, but don’t offer every book or treatment. He says that, similar to these services, Free Basics cannot offer everything, but that doesn’t mean it is a bad service.
He also claims one in every 10 people that join the Internet are lifted out of poverty, though he doesn’t cite a source for this information.
The Indian Parliament will decide the fate of Free Basics in an upcoming debate on net neutrality. Facebook pleaded for users to sign a petition a few days before the TRAI banned Free Basics, sensing danger.
The firm has since started a major advertising campaign for Free Basics and is increasing lobbying efforts in the country.
Opponents do not consider the argument put forward by Zuckerberg and his company to be worth all that much, as they continue to campaign for a Free Basics permanent ban. In his opinion piece, Zuckerberg calls opponents liars spreading false claims, and says that there isn’t a financial interest for Facebook — a claim bolstered by the fact that it doesn’t run ads on Free Basics.
However, the additional lobbying and full-page newspaper ads suggest the existence of at least a more long-term financial interest in keeping the program alive. It is not that hard to see why Facebook would want more control over access to the Internet and infrastructure — Google has similar goals in Southeast Asia.
Facebook previously changed the name of Free Basics, which was originally called Internet.org, after the backlash first started in India, and it also opened the platform up to more developers. At the end of the article, Zuckerberg says that he is open to more changes, though some critics seem adamant that Free Basics needs to go.